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William Stamm

"Uncle Billy" Stamm, Early Wheeling resident 

-- from Wm. Stamm's Recollections of Wheeling in the Thirties. (1906, October 28). Wheeling Register


Interesting Recollections in the Life of the Pioneer Proprietor of the "Four-Mile House," and the National Road - Born at Frankfort-on-the Main, Germany, and Came to Wheeling in 1833.

Few persons have enjoyed a continuous residence of 73 years in Ohio county, and a less number enjoy the distinction of having conducted a successful business in Wheeling for sixty years.

Thus has the hand of Providence stood between William Stamm and the infirmities of life that send the average man over the dark river within less years than either of the periods mentioned. Mr. Stamm celebrated his ninety-first birthday anniversary on the 4th day of last August, when a number of his many friends, as on similar occasions in recent years, called upon him and his estimable wife, now in her eighty-seventh year, and once more renewed old ties of friendship, at the Stamm House, opposite Wheeling Park, on the National road, where Mr. and Mrs. Stamm have lived for over half-a-century.

Everybody knows "Uncle Billy," as he is commonly known by many friends who deem it an honor to reverence him by such title, for a more interesting personage than he never entertained a party of friends in Ohio county, or threw open the doors of his household to friend and stranger than Mr. Stamm, who is as much a student of human nature as he has been in all that appertains to the growth, welfare and stability of the community in which he resides. During his long residence in this county he has never been an office seeker, but nevertheless public-spirited, taking the initiative in matters that proved to be for the public good, many of which remain in force and effect today.

Mr. Stamm was born near Frankfort-on-the Main, Germany, August 4, 1815. His father, William by name, was a weaver, and the son also learned that trade. Mr. Stamm, the subject of this sketch, came to this country with his parents and one brother, John Stamm, in 1833, on the Aurora, a Danish ship, and the voyage covering several weeks time was accompanied by severe storms, which many times threatened the destruction of the vessel.

Landed at Baltimore

The family landed at Baltimore on the 16th day of September, of the year mentioned, and remained there until February, when they left for Wheeling, arriving here on the 11th day of March, 1834.

While there was no danger of shipwreck on this trip, there was nevertheless other hazardous chances to take, as outlaws were abroad in the land, ready to plunder and rob. Navigating was extremely slow, five or six miles a day over the then uneven roadways being the record for days. The roads were also so drifted with snow in some mountain draws that the "row-team," as the long caravan was called, often had to suspend further progress until the drifts could be cleared. The caravan consisted of several teams and covered wagons, and one can only partially picture the severe hardships endured en route because of the winter's storms. However, these early pioneers found refuge from cold and hunger in taverns, which Mr. Stamm explains, were located at convenient intervals.

Wheeling was a thriving little city of about 12,000 inhabitants when Mr. Stamm became a resident of it. Just at that time, however, there was no particular stir in a business way. As much as fifty cents a day was being paid carpenters and other tradesmen, but beef and other meat ranged from 2 to 3 cents a pound. Other commodities were correspondingly low. It was the custom in those days for many persons to kill, and cure their own meats, and many household necessaries were prepared in the home. But of this history will suffice.

First Home in Wheeling

Mr. Stamm's first place of residence in Wheeling was on the north side of what is now Tenth street, where his father engaged in the weaving business, which was his occupation in Germany. Later Mr. Stamm, the subject of this sketch, engaged in business in that section of the city, which he conducted successfully for 20 years.

Of Mr. Stamm's brother John very little is known. Shortly after arriving in Wheeling in that early day he seems to have been attacked with a Western fever. He went to St. Louis and was heard from after a number of years, when he enlisted in the United States army in the war with Mexico. After the war John Stamm married a Southern lady and settled in Texas, but as to his further career nothing is known.

In those days in Wheeling there was a paper mill on the site of the present B. & O. passenger depot, the Sweeney machine shops in North Wheeling, the Top mill, the only one of its kind in this section of the country, located on the present site, the Morrison & Moore ale brewery, on the site of the recently razed Flaccus factory and the Stifel fulling mills in North Wheeling near the present site of the calico works.

That Mr. Stamm embraced opportunities as keenly as others of his countrymen is evidenced from the fact that after five years he had accumulated sufficient means with which to purchase a hundred-acre tract of land, where Mt. Calvary Cemetery is now located. In 1848 he traded this land for the Stamm farm and tavern, Mr. Stamm's present residence, and two years later took possession of the same. It was then owned by C. Carter, who built the old land mark so familiar to all who traverse the National road, in 1818, three years after Mr. Stamm was born. It was then called the Four-Mile House, by reason of its being four miles from Wheeling, and had a large statue of an Indian in front. As Mr. Stamm recalls, the house was an old-fashioned tavern when he took possession, but was, nevertheless, popular for its accommodations for both man and beast. It was also a profitable investment, as the traffic on the National road at that time was very great as high as fifty teams, with heavy wagons, being seen in a row at times. The great highway was in better condition back in the forties than it is at the present time. It was wider by several feet, and was regarded as a sacred highway. Being in control of the government, offenders who encroached upon it with private property lines were severely punished. Mr. Stamm asserts that it was a colossal blunder on the part of the government to turn the National road over to Virginia, and a worse one when the State turned it over to the county.

The "Four-Mile House"

Mr. Stamm made various improvements to the Four-Mile House, and on the wall of his own room in the old building is a picture taken forty years ago. In the windows can be seen the small panes of glass originally put in when the house was built, which were later replaced by larger glass, and above the west door of the sign, "Four-Mile House, Wm. Stamm, Proprietor," The same old stone pavement, however, that stands today was there then, and in the picture can be seen a number of guests, among them Mr. and Mrs. Burns, who lived at the house for over 22 years. A unique feature of the picture is the hoop skirt worm by the women of the time.

Mr. Stamm relates many interesting stories dating back to his long and remarkable career as an inn-keeper for sixty years. He distinctly remembers the kind of clothing men and women wore sixty years ago, and says when he came to Wheeling men were wearing cues and ribbons, having reference to the older generations. The women wore what was considered very stylish in the black, close fitting bonnets.

The first year he was proprietor of the Four-Mile House a memorable fox chase took place across the east end of the farm, which he describes with the marked accuracy as though it happened this summer. Foxes were then so numerous that they plundered many hen-roosts, and a bounty of $3 was paid for their pelts.

There was a constant stream of immigrants on the National road in those days, moving from the East to as far as Chillicothe, O. and there were eighteen different stage lines carrying mail and passengers, and the Congressmen and all kinds of fashionable gents of the age were also among the passengers of the National road stage lines. In the early days there was a toll house, commonly called then the "round house," where Cecil place is now located, and one of the pioneer toll keepers was John Simpson, of whom Mr. Stamm has many pleasant words to say.

Early Stage Lines

Among the various stage lines in the early forties, of which Mr. Stamm has very distinct recollections, were Lacey & Company's Northern Stages" for Norwalk and Lake Erie, the fast "Mail Line" for Cincinnati, the "Good Intent" line for Maysville, Ky., the Stockton's "Mail Chariot" daily for Baltimore, and others. Most of these stages had from two to eight teams hitched to single wagons.

The two main roads running into Wheeling from the East in those days was the National road and another branching off from it near Fulton and, following the creek, entered the city near the site of the Reymann brewery.

Coming back to Mr. Stamm's recollections of older Wheeling, he states that this city in the 40's and 50's was famous for the tremendous amount of mail handled at the post-office. It was a distributing point for this section of the country. Mr. Stamm recalls the post masters from 1840 to 1856 in their successive terms as follows: David Agney, Matthew Hale, J.B. Wharton, Jacob Shriver, Dr. George Cracraft and General Hugh Feeney.

The Wheeling post office was located prior to 1857, when he present building was erected, in the center of Main street, near the intersection of Tenth.

Mr. Stamm's recollections of the building of the Baltimore and Ohio railroad into this city in 1836-37 are very clear, and in connection with it he refers to the stupidity of certain citizens in denying the B. & O. certain franchises; that they were not appreciative of the prosperity the railroad world bringing to the city, which was very apparent after the road was built.

A Mayor of the Forties

Moses W. Chapline was Mayor of Wheeling in the forties, and Mr. Stamm refers to him as an efficient and broadminded official. He also recalls the names of various other officers of the city in those days. He remembers distinctly the ovation given Martin Van Buren when he visited this city in 1846, and takes pleasure in saying that he voted and worked for him when he ran for President, voting later for Harrison and Tyler, Polk and Dallas, Taylor and Pierce. Being a lifelong Democrat, Mr. Stamm has voted that ticket every year of his long residence here, and expects to vote for the next President of the United States. Today he reads the daily papers, the political as well as the news features, with more interest than many of the younger generations, and boasts of being a regular subscriber of the Register ever since it was founded in 1863.

Mr. Stamm was reared in the faith of the German Presbyterian Church in Germany, and his parents as well as he adhered to that doctrine when they became citizens of the United States. Mr. Stamm assisted in the laying of the corner stone for the first church of the present St. John's German Independent Protestant Evangelical congregation, of which the Rev. W. G. Ulfert is now pastor. The pioneer structure was built in 1836 on Eighteenth Street, near the site of the present Eighteenth Street Memorial Chapel. Later it was razed and the site abandoned, and the congregation purchased the property on the corner of Market and Seventeenth streets, where a new structure was erected and in and in this Mr. Stamm also participated in the laying of the corner stone. He very much regretted to hear of the last named property being sold and the edifice of his chosen church again torn down. Recently he was taken out for a ride by a friend, and they first viewed the ruins of the old church and then the new site on Chapline street, back of the High School building. Mr. Stamm expects to be present at the corner stone laying of the new edifice, seventy years after the first laying.

Mr. Stamm's Religious Views

Mr. Stamm has been a regular attendant until recent years, but this does not mean that his religious views are any different than in the days of his prime. He asserts that the great evil in this county to-day is that there are too many churches, and for these conditions he blames no less a person than George Washington, whom he quotes as saying, "Every man can worship his God as he sees fit." "In our own country we have one church and one God," Mr. Stamm goes on to say in discussing church questions. He is also a thorough believer in compulsory education, and believes that many have been deprived of good educations in this country because of the lack of better laws along this line.

Mr. Stamm never used tobacco in any form, and boasts of the fact as being responsible for his extraordinary age, good health and strength. He was never over-intoxicated, and never took of intoxicants to an extent that would interfere with his business. He does not believe it is wrong to drink moderately, but he has about as much use for the drunkard as the strongest temperance advocate would have. While he is small in stature, there are evidences in his make-up of a strong constitution, which has never been subjected to unnecessary ill usages.

When you pull the door bell at the Stamm House more than likely you will be greeted by "Uncle Billy," for he is generally at home and ready to receive callers and entertain them at most any hour of the day, either indulging in a discussion of current topics or reminiscences of the olden days, preferably the latter.

Mr. Stamm was married in 1840 to Miss Mary Franzheim, by the Rev. Charles Dopkert, pastor of St. John's Evangelical church, of which both the principals were members. To this union four children were born, two sons and two daughters, three of whom died in early years, the surviving daughter being Miss Amelia Stamm, who resides at home. There are six grandchildren and three great-grandchildren, all residing in and about Wheeling.

One Ride was Enough

While Mr. Stamm has always been progressive and public spirited, as before remarked, he has nevertheless some peculiar characteristics. During his long residence here, he seldom ventured out of Ohio county. On one occasion, however, accepting the invitation of a friend, he made a trip to Pittsburgh over the B. & O. So far as known, this is the only ride he ever had on a railroad train. On returning home, he is said to have expressed no desire to ever take another trip on the railroad. During the entire journey he felt that something was going to happen every moment, and his trip to the Smoky City was one of fear, rather than pleasure.

With all of his seemingly mild contempt for railroading, no one is a stronger believer in the great advantages brought to cities of today by the great railroad systems of the land than Mr. Stamm. He, however, recalls that a gross injustice was done the steamboat lines when the Pennsylvanian blocked off the wharf from the city in running its line along the river front. His sympathies are largely with the river interests, for the old Union Line of steamers were doing the business when Mr. Stamm was in his prime and one of Wheeling's most prosperous citizens.

In concluding this brief sketch of a few of the more interesting incidents in the life of William Stamm. It may be added that he has been blessed with much of the world's goods: is satisfied with his life's work, content in his ninety-first year with the surroundings of his youth, and ready to meet his maker when the final summons comes, "Like one who wraps the drapery of his couch about him and lies down to pleasant dreams."

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